Front, father and son Paul and Chris Stephens, descendants of Hayle brewer Christopher Ellis. Behind, beer writer Darren Norbury and Cornish Arms licensee Claire Williams
There was a time when every village or town would have had at least one local brewery, perhaps even several. Go to somewhere like Ponsanooth, near Falmouth, and you could be forgiven for thinking those days are returning, it being home to Dynamite Valley Brewing, Treen’s Brewery and Woodman’s Wild Ales.
Closer to my home, in Hayle, there used to be Ellis & Son, operating until 1934 when it was taken over by St Austell Brewery. If you think last year’s acquisition of Bath Ales was a new move for the Cornish brewer, nah, they’ve been at it for years. The brewery building is now flats and live-work units, but the building is unmistakeably that of an old brewery, used in latter years by St Austell as a west Cornwall depot.
When he took over the business from his father, Christopher Ellis Junior became quite an entrepreneur, building local hotels, such as the Cornubia and the Old Quay House, but also building up a pub estate, too. The brewery — which utilised malt grown on neighbouring Bodriggy Farm — was turning out 3,000 barrels a year when St Austell took it over.
The Ellis name is not gone forever, though. One of the old recipes was re-brewed about ten years ago and again this year, the difference second time around that the beer was able to go on sale on the guest pump in the Cornish Arms, Ellis & Son’s tap, on the main street through Hayle. The second batch was made for the wedding of Ellis descendent Chris Stephens, Chris Eliis’s great-great grandson. He and his father, Paul, from Carnon Downs, came down to the Cornish Arms to try the beer with myself and landlady Claire Williams, ahead of the Cornish Arms’ first Fools beer festival at the start of April.
The beer didn’t disappoint. Delightfully old fashioned, it had bready, caramel malt balanced with deep beery fruit notes, with hints of strawberry on the rich, roasty aroma.
St Austell head brewer, Roger Ryman, said: “It’s always a treat to be able to use historic recipes and to try to make them work in the modern day.
“Having the [Small Batch plant] allows us to be creative and work on special brews like this one and, while we have brewed one or two Ellis ales in the past to mark anniversaries, it’s a real pleasure to be able to give someone such a fantastic gift on their wedding day.”
While the old Ellis Original was a one-off, spares were available through the brewery’s online shop and from the visitor centre, which sold out in record time. However, St Austell doesn’t rue out the possibility of a new Ellis Original being hatched from the Small Batch. Watch this space…